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New Analysis And Science Answer Governor Cuomo’s Fracking Concerns

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

Health professionals and scientists are out with two new independent summations of the risks and harms of shale gas development and hydraulic fracturing. The two documents were formally released Thursday at the Legislative Office Building in downtown Albany.

Saying the science should speak for itself, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in an election season debate that the long-awaited health impact study into hydraulic fracturing would be released before the end of the year. The state has remained under a de facto moratorium for several years — a delay that has allowed activists on both sides of the issue to mobilize.

The two papers include an analysis from non-profit energy science and policy think tank PSE Healthy Energy. Covering a wide range of outcomes—air pollution, water contamination, and public health — the PSE analysis is portrayed as a statistical evaluation of the approximately 400 peer-reviewed studies to date on the impacts of shale gas development.  Larysa Dyrszka is a pediatrician and a co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York:   "The status of scientific inquiry into the impacts of shale gas development decisively shows that independent peer review studies overwhelmingly correlate public hazards and risks with shale gas development.  Governor Cuomo has been wise to maintain a moratorium on fracking, but the science really is not split, and in fact there's a recent explosion of new studies which show problems and harm from the acute affects of air pollution, water contamination and community instability, to more chronic impacts that affect public health, the environment and the economy.  The state's health review must likewise consider the weight of the evidence across many fields of study and the emerging trends in the data."

That health review has served as block and bargaining chip for Cuomo:  Two years ago, a "secret" eight-page analysis obtained by the New York Times purported that hydrofracking could be conducted safely in New York. The State Department of Environmental Conservation's Emily DeSantis told the paper at the time that the analysis was out of date. The DOH says it is "still reviewing" and expects to issue a report by year's end, now a few weeks way.

The second new document is what fracktivists call "a major update" to the Compendium of scientific, medical and media findings from Concerned Health Professionals of New York.  Pediatrician and bioethicist Kathleen Nolan says investigative reporting and research continues to confirm worsening problems with spills and fracking waste.    "Measurements of air contaminations are becoming more accurate and more useful in terms of geographic localizations, sampling techniques, and the importance of attending to episodic spikes as compared with long term averages of toxic gases. Well casing failure rates are being quantified at levels that appear to be higher in the setting of fracturing than with conventional techniques, and methanes and other leaks, such as from unplugged wells and natural gas distribution networks, as being more carefully documented and tracked. Health problem from contaminations are becoming more numerous and more visible. Fracking-related earthquakes are becoming more numerous and more visible. In addition, some studies document very long faults caused by fracturing. In one case, shown to extend vertically up to 1900 feet above an overlying rock layer that was thought to be an impervious barrier. This is a novel finding, and turns the industry's understanding of what they're doing on this, on its head."

Activists treat the papers as proof that continuing New York's moratorium on fracking is not only scientifically sound, but "morally required." Both papers have been sent to Governor Cuomo and Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association did not immediately return calls for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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